A lot of posts about Mugai lately, but I suppose that’s because it’s the most interesting part of my week to me. Tonight we were doing grappling- lots of fun. As much as I love the sword, I feel more at home barefisted- unarmed, mano il mano, good old fashioned knock-’em down. We did some really cool locks- a wrist-lock I didn’t know could be implemented so easily, an armbar and aikido-style takedown, a neck-lock which I never imagined possible… Kaneda really knows what he’s doing- he understands the body’s functions and limitations and is familiar with pretty much every possible joint lock in the book. He knows so many variations of takedowns, escapes and counter-locks it’s amazing. He draws examples from Brazillian Jiu Jitsu, aikido and ninjutsu, as well as mugai ryu. That’s why it was so comforting to me to see that he physically didn’t have the strength/mass to apply an armbar to Simon.

Sometimes, in my life, I just haven’t had the strength to apply a lock. The person’s physically too strong for my to turn their arm so that it’s weaknesses are made available to me. I can’t turn their wrist enough to apply a wrist lock, can’t turn their hand over for an armbar, can’t move them at all. They’re just stationery, resisting, and I’m struggling and pushing at them trying to get them to move for crying out loud. Those are the moments in my life when I’ve felt useless as a martial artist. I’ve come to terms with the fact it’s not my technique that’s poor, but the way I implement it. What I learned tonight was to create openings. Moving backwards causes them to off-balance, distracting them long enough for you to turn their wrist and apply the lock. Pulling one way before moving another so that their resistance adds to your momentum will give you enough energy to force them down. But sometimes, even when you’re sitting on top of them putting all your weight on one joint, they’re still strong enough to get up (with you on them) and roll on top of you.

Kaneda’s good advice in this situation is to change tact. If one technique isn’t working, don’t keep struggling with it! Adapt. Accept that it’s ineffective against them, for whatever reasons, and react quickly enough to catch them off guard with the next technique. And if that doesn’t work and you’re in a situation where you’re about to roll around on the floor and start wrestling, get the hell out of there. If you’re a grappler, grapple. If you fight on your feet, get back on your feet. You can dabble in the other, but play to your strengths. It seems grappling is not one of mine. I’m tempted to start going to the gym and building some muscle on these arms of mine, but I’m worried it’ll slow me down. It’s a tradeoff I’ll have to make I guess, but I really do want to progress from being a lightweight. At least a little.

One really cool thing I’m getting much better at is the unbendable arm. Everything must be done with purpose. Even if someone grabs from behind and binds you, breathing, anchoring, and ‘raising the cup’ is all that you need to do. Ignore them, they’re not there. You just want to raise the cup. You’re not trying to do it, you are doing it. Nothing exists but the cup. This gives you enough room to make your escape, and it’s a fun thing to do! When I tried it with Andy however, I couldn’t budge. It seems either a) I still have a lot to learn, or b) I just need the arm strength to pull it off. Or perhaps c), both of the above.

The other amazing thing about tonight’s lesson was a demonstration by Kaneda. He invited Bert and I to apply any sort of grab we wanted to him and he would attempt to get out of it. I went behind him for the good old fashioned secure choke-hold, bracing against his body and pulling with the strength of both arms. It’s able to knock out a person within eight seconds (I’ve heard) if applied so that it cuts off the blood to the head. Bert went for something more unconventional, trapping Kaneda’s right hand against his right leg and wrapping his arms around them so they couldn’t move. Unable to breathe and with half his body negated, he created enough space to get oxygen and by manouvering us around, eventually managed to get enough leverage to throw me off. It was spectacular, I dropped straight back and had to breakfall because of the force of it. From there he turned his attention to Bert and created space to escape that as well. There was a lot of resistance and struggling through- he wasn’t happy with it, and at the end of class asked us to do it again. He took a much different approach this time, and rather than fighting us for a good minute or two, he simply anchored, breathed and slipped out. He escaped within seconds, and did it again this time freeing his right hand first. He thanked us for helping him learn what he needed to work on. I’m so grateful that my teacher isn’t infallible- he has weaknesses too, just like me. It’s very reassuring. I don’t have to be perfect, I just have to play to my strengths.

Okay, exam time. Here we go!


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